Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
USA, 2019. Lionsgate, Media Rights Capital, T-Street. Screenplay by Rian Johnson. Cinematography by Steve Yedlin. Produced by Ram Bergman, Rian Johnson. Music by Nathan Johnson. Production Design by David Crank. Costume Design by Jenny Eagan. Film Editing by Bob Ducsay. Academy Awards 2019. Golden Globe Awards 2019. Toronto International Film Festival 2019. Washington Film Critics Awards 2019. AFI Film of the Year 2019. Las Vegas Film Critics Awards 2019. National Board of Review Awards 2019. Philadelphia Film Critics Awards 2019.
A famous mystery author (Christopher Plummer) who has built his brand into a multi-million-dollar publishing industry is found dead with his throat slit in an apparent suicide that sends his whole family into a tizzy. Immediately being questioned by the police, the man’s son (Michael Shannon), daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter-in-law (Toni Collette) are clearly hoping to wrap the situation up quickly and get to the reading of the will, but a private investigator (Daniel Craig) shows up, claiming to have no idea who hired him and announcing that he is there to make sure there isn’t any foul play involved. The night before Plummer was found dead, the family had gathered for a big party and a number of events contributed to motives for murder: he cut Collette off after deducing that she had been double-dipping into her allowance regarding her daughter’s (Katherine Langford) education, confronted Curtis’ husband (Don Johnson) about his extra-marital affair, confirmed that he would not be giving Shannon any creative control over their publishing empire and had a mysterious fight with his preppy spoiled-brat grandson (Chris Evans) over what everyone assumes was money. Craig and his overdone southern accent examine all these suspicious players but then turn attention to Plummer’s nurse (Ana de Armas), who becomes the focus of the story as details reveal her to be in possession of significant secrets. The fact that writer-director Rian Johnson spills her story early in a flashback speaks to the possibility that we’re going to get an unconventional Agatha Christie whodunit, one in which the plot is described and then subverted, where clues are added to what we thought was the whole truth and reveal that what we thought was the narrative was something else all along (think of how Hitchcock plays with our ideas of a reliable narrator in Stage Fright). Instead, we work our way backward from de Armas’ recollection without there being any interesting surprises or twists of note along the way, The director and his plot are so obsessed with making sure that we understand that this woman with an undocumented mother is a good person that he forgets to give her a personality to show off or a plot to enjoy being a part of (it’s the ultimate example in virtue signaling, really, which is to raise issues without doing anything significant about them). The rest of the cast is so great a waste of valuable resources that the film could be accused of contributing to climate change, none of the personalities in this film go beyond two dimensions, all of them shallow ideas of types that take the form of lectures in human form (guess what, rich people are bad), but actors of this caliber could have elevated them into something funny and diverting if given half the chance. Johnson at the helm, however, forces them into the background while giving far too much time to de Armas and her adventure with Evans, making one wonder if perhaps half the movie was left on the cutting room floor; what’s the purpose of having a family contain Jaeden Martell’s Alex P. Keaton-esque grandson and Langford’s liberal arts SJW if they’re not actually going to go head to head beyond one brief scene at dinner, and more important, why do none of the conflicts or secrets of the entire family have much to do with the actual explanation of the mystery plot? Perhaps some will be mildly amused by seeing all these glamorous folks interacting with each other, but as structure goes this film is neither true to the genre nor an interesting take on it, lacking irony to the point of being downright insulting.